Most people enjoy a glass of wine or two or some other type of alcoholic beverage on occasion. Some experts even say that one or two drinks a day may be good for the heart. Although this is controversial, it is clear that too much alcohol can cause severe consequences to one’s health, and those consequences generally start in the stomach and other digestive organs.
One of alcohol’s first negative effects during over consumption is damage to the lining of the esophagus and stomach. The destruction by alcohol of the mucous membrane that protects the stomach from its own strong stomach acids can cause gastritis, acid reflux, indigestion, and ultimately ulcer disease. It is believed that overuse of alcohol will actually increase acidity in the stomach, but this is controversial. Over use of alcohol may merely cause the acid that you do have to reflux or to cause damage to the stomach due to the degrading of the mucous lining. Studies show that small amounts of beer or wine may stimulate the hormone gastrin and increase stomach acid, while large amounts of stronger alcohol will impede hormonally related gastric acids.
Ultimately, in significant over use of alcohol, when the lining of the stomach is severely damaged a decrease of stomach acid may occur. This also will cause significant digestive irregularities and poor digestion of proteins.
Mallory-Weiss syndrome is caused by hyper emesis or chronic vomiting and dry heaves which sometimes accompany alcoholism. In this syndrome the tissues of the esophagus and the lower esophageal sphincter become damaged. This may cause serious bleeding and vomiting of blood. Hospitalization may be required.
One of the most dangerous consequences of alcohol abuse is its damaging effects on the liver. The liver is responsible for detoxing the whole body of waste products as well as assisting in digestion by providing bile to the digestive tract for digestion of fats. Complicated chemical processes occur in the liver that breaks down fats and proteins and other chemicals in preparation for elimination. If either process is compromised disease can follow either from an internally systemic toxic state or from malnutrition from lack of properly digested fats and sugars.
Over use of alcohol can cause significant scarring within the liver called cirrhosis. This is an irreversible condition. If alcohol abuse is stopped soon enough much of the liver function can recuperate as the liver has a remarkable ability to regenerate, but recovery will be limited. Over use can also cause fatty liver, which impedes normal liver function.
Alcohol will exacerbate any digestive issue that may already be present. So if one has acid reflux or diarrhea you may assume that it will get worse over time, not better. Alcohol inhibits the reabsorption of water in the colon that should take place, aggravating diarrhea. Intestinal motility can be significantly impaired. Alcohol is also known for its effects on the esophageal sphincter, making it loose in its ability to contract and hold tightly. So if you have reflux disease already it will certainly get worse. In general alcohol can worsen any digestive issue that is already present.
Nutrition greatly suffers with the overuse of alcohol. Due to damage in the lining of the gut, from the stomach all through the intestines, nutrients are not digested and absorbed properly, including proteins, fats and vitamins. The damages to the mucosa allow for the absorption of endotoxins which are toxic compounds and bacterial toxins that should not enter the blood stream and can cause allergies and a toxic state in other organs. The production of B vitamins and absorption of B vitamins and folate is severely compromised. Alcoholics require significant B vitamin and folate supplementation and during rehab it is advantageous to administer these either intra muscularly or by IV until the digestive tract starts to heal. Anemia is common when folate ingestion and absorption decreases. Many alcoholics do not eat sufficient B complex and folate foods. Diarrhea will disturb the intestines ability to manufacture its own B complexes. Normal gut flora can be severely compromised. For restoration probiotics is essential.
The overuse of alcohol can promote a variety of different cancers, including stomach cancer, esophageal cancer, and liver cancer. Other diseases associated are Barrett's syndrome, hypertension, stroke, cardio vascular disease and acute pancreatitis which can be life threatening. Gum disease and oral decay is common and it is unclear if it is caused by the direct contact of alcohol or the ensuing malnutrition.